As 2023 draws near, the quest for the South-East zone to produce the president is generating a curious and interesting debate. This debate has thrown up some false narratives, which this article will address later. But first, we wish to proffer some arguments to justify the South East Zone producing the next President, come 2023. I have deliberately chosen to narrow down to the Southeast Zone as opposed to Igbo Presidency so that there would not be any ambiguity. In the South, the Southwest and the South-South have produced Presidents, leaving the South East as the zone logically in line to produce the next President, come 2023. 

Nigeria is a country of diverse nationalities. Its unity can only be assured of fairness, equity and justice prevail. Nigeria, since 1999, has practised rotational presidency, with power alternating between north and south. In the south, only the South East has not benefitted from this arrangement. 

The South East has suffered deprivation and injustice that time has come to begin to heal the deep wounds. Since 1970, Ndigbo has been persecuted for seeking self-determination. President Gowon’s Reconciliation, Reconstruction and Rehabilitation have remained a mirage till date. This is in stark contrast to the recent North East Development Commission established to help rebuild the North East and the establishment of the Niger Delta Development Commission to address the challenges emanating from oil exploration and exploitation in the Niger Delta. The South East has largely been ignored with no dedicated agency established to rebuild infrastructure destroyed during the civil war. 

Politically, it is no different. Every opportunity that presented itself for the South East to produce a president was deliberately truncated. Dr Alex Ekwueme was lined up to succeed President Shehu Shagari in 1987. The January 1984 coup was widely touted as primarily executed to prevent Dr Alex Ekwueme from succeeding President Shehu Shagari at the expiration of his tenure in 1987. 

In 1999, a potential Ekwueme presidency was aborted by the military, when they hurriedly conscripted General Obasanjo from prison and drafted him to contest the presidency. In spite of these obvious discriminations, Ndigbo continued to remain patriotic and true Nigerians contributing to the economic development of areas beyond the South East. 

As 2023 is approaching, obstacles are once again being erected against the South East. Mr Mamman Daura, President Buhari’s nephew has advocated for an end to zoning and its replacement with merit and competency. Before this Mamman Daura’s poisonous and mischievous suggestion, Governor El Rufai, just six months into President Buhari’s second term advocated as follows: 

“Barriers to political equality, such as our seemingly entrenched through informal rule for zoning candidacies according to regions of origin, need to be de-emphasised and ultimately abandoned in favour of an emphasis on qualification, competence and character.”We take note that Governor El Rufai, recently conceded that the next President should come from the south. 

What these influential northern elites are suggesting is that we shift the goalposts midway. This is another orchestrated effort to deprive the South East of having a shot at the presidency. 

It is ironical that people like Mallam Daura and his ilk who are perpetual beneficiaries of the quota system are now waking up to lecture us on the merits of competency. Let, Mallam Daura know that the South East is not opposed to merit and competence. The South East has always lived by it and has never benefited from the lowering of standards. What the South East is advocating is that what is good for the goose is good for the gander and that the goal post should not be shifted in the middle of a football game. 

Now let me address some of the false narratives being ignorantly advanced as to why the South East may not be able to produce a Nigerian President. 

Inability to coalesce around one candidate

This is a mischievous assertion as if political contestation is a yoyo affair. In a democracy, those who believe they have the competence should all make themselves available and a democratic process used to weed out those with less popular support. Why should that of Ndigbo be different? The north that is being used as an example to discredit Ndigbo, in the recent past, have not coalesced around one candidate 

During the PDP convention held in Port Harcourt towards the 2019 presidential election, 13 northern candidates jostled for the presidential candidate. These are former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar; former Senate President, Bukola Saraki; Sokoto State Governor, Alhaji Aminu Tambuwal; Gombe State Governor, Alhaji Ibrahim Dankwambo; former Jigawa State governor, Alhaji Sule Lamido; former Kaduna State governor, Senator Ahmed Makarfi; and former Minister of Special Duties and Inter-governmental Affairs, Alhaji Tanimu Turaki SAN. 

Others are former president of the Senate, Senator David Mark; a former Kano State governor, Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso; former Sokoto State governor, Alhaji Attahiru Bafarawa; former Plateau State governor, Senator Jonah Jang; Mr Stanley Osifo and Senator Baba Datti-Ahmed. 

In 2014, four northern candidates contested for the presidential ticket under APC. The aspirants were President Mohammadu Buhari; a former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar; Former Governor of Kano State; Rabiu Kwankwaso; and Publisher of Leadership Newspaper Group, Sam Nda-Isaiah. 

Ndigbo do not love themselves

This is one of the wildest fallacies propagated against Ndigbo. If Ndigbo does not love themselves, we would not have made the progress we made with just 20 pounds after the civil war. Ndigbo, I dare say know the value of being their brother’s keeper, hence the Igbo saying Onye a ghana Nwanne ya. (Never leave your brother stranded). Ndigbo lives by this doctrine. It is not by accident that Anambra State has the highest density of millionaires in Nigeria. One Igbo millionaire gives birth to multiple millionaires. Come to Igbo land, go to markets where Ndigbo trade, and you will witness what it means to love one another. Ndigbo shows their love for one another in concrete terms. That is why once an Igbo person identifies a lucrative trade or location, he/she invites his brother. 

Ndigbo always support those with huge financial war chest:

The clamour for fairness, equity and justice for which having a president of Igbo extraction, has elicited different reactions and innuendos as to why Igbo Presidency may not materialise. One of them is the statement by Prince Tony Momoh, in an interview with Daily Independent newspaper, to the effect that ‘it will be difficult for Igbos to attain the presidency in Nigeria,’ citing disunity and their preference for supporting the candidates with huge financial chests during the election. This statement by Prince Momoh is ill-conceived and based on prejudice. This is the type of fallacy and jaundiced view being propagated to justify the gang up against Ndigbo. 

I will like to use Anambra State as an illustration in debunking this fallacy. In Anambra state, the timbres and calibres, as Late Dr Mbadiwe would say, were mostly in PDP, and are still there. In other words, those with the so-called financial war chest are in the PDP. But for four terms, APGA has held firm to Anambra State governorship. If financial war chest was the determining factor, APGA was nowhere to match the then PDP starting from 2006. People like Momoh have propagated this false view as if Ndigbo love money more than other groups. A place to start, to verify those who love money, is an examination of the names of the looters of our commonwealth, failed banks and other public enterprises since independence. It is more likely that those that love money, would steal from the commonwealth. Ndigbo works hard for their money and there is no apology for this. This pervasive, but wrong notion about Ndigbo, may be due to ignorance of how the Igbo communities are structured and how decisions representing the collective wills of the people are implemented. It is therefore important that people like Prince Momoh spend time to educate themselves about how the structure in Igbo land operates so that the next time he goes to solicit Igbo votes he will know how to approach it. Giving one billion Naira to a person or to a selected group will be money wasted, trust me.

Disunity among Ndigbo

People should understand that what they refer to as disunity is not so. Any person who aspires to Igbo leadership must earn it and not impose himself. When some people from outside Igbo land identify a stooge and decide to present him or her to Ndigbo and Ndigbo resist it, it becomes ascribed to Igbo disunity. When a person for argument sake, accepts money from Prince Momoh to support a particular person and Ndigbo resist it for not having being consulted apriori, it is termed disunity. 

If Ndigbo did what the Yorubas did to Obasanjo in 1999, they would have been accused of infighting in rejecting their own. The Yorubas have their reasons for making that decision and their action should be respected. Again in 2015, the bona fide Awoist rejected Buhari while the Tinubu group voted for Buhari. In the South West, Buhari had 2,433,193 votes while Jonathan scored 1,821,416. Was this disunity? In the same election, Ndigbo in unity voted for President Jonathan. But instead of seeing this as unity, Ndigbo is being accused of political naivety for not dividing their vote. In fact, it looks like head or tail Ndigbo will lose. 

Ndigbo knows their leaders. Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Dr Michael Okpara and Odumegwu Ojukwu were not universally accepted because of their financial war chest. The current President of Ohaneze and previous ones did not possess a huge financial war chest. 

Igbo wanting Biafra/IPOB

In scrambling for any reason to deny the South-East a shot at the presidency, the clamour for Biafra and the activities of IPOB have been suggested as impediments. This reasoning has ignored the fact that the South East is not the first region to seek or threaten secession. Arewa had done that just before independence, in 1956, and immediately after the 1966 coup. Yet, no one denied them the presidency or even suggested so because of their threat to secede. 

It is also instructive, that while IPOB has not engaged in any terrorist activities, we have Boko Haram and the Herders/Miyeti Allah terrorizing Nigerians. Yet no one has suggested that the zones where these terrorists come from should be excluded from the benefits of the zoning of the presidency. 

Be that as it may, let me state categorically, that Mr Nnamdi Kanu does not speak for Ndigbo, for he does not possess the qualities Ndigbo look for in a spokesperson. Anyone who wants to know what a typical Igbo spokesperson looks like should turn to the current Ohaneze President, Chief Nnia Nwodo. An Igbo spokesperson is chosen based on his temperament, tact and diplomatic skills. The importance of diplomatic is anchored on always ensuring that potential Igbo spokespersons have a good grasp of Igbo proverbs. 

Nigeria must stop inventing excuses and erecting artificial barriers to deny the South East the benefit of the rotational presidency already enjoyed by other zones in the south. A Nigeria that values justice, equity and fairness should be interested in redressing the marginalization and barefaced injustice suffered by Ndigbo. In 1999, to address the injustice emanating from the annulment of the election of Chief M.K. O. Abiola, the two main political parties fielded Yoruba candidates from the South West. This type of arrangement can be replicated in 2023 to demonstrate to Ndigbo that Nigeria is not continuing with its prosecution of a war that ended more than 50 years ago. Who better to actualize this arrangement than President Buhari, considering that the military constituency to which he belongs, denied Ndigbo the opportunity to become president two times (in 1987, by truncating in 1984, the second term of President Shehu Shagari that would have ended in 1987 and in 1999, by displacing Dr Alex Ekwueme with President Obasanjo). 

General Babaginda, addressed his wrongdoing to the South West in 1999 by ensuring that a Yoruba emerged as the president. It is not too much for President Buhari to do the same in 2023. We, therefore, call on President Muhammadu Buhari, in the words of Archbishop of England, Justin Welby, to be a hero for the common good by at least getting his party, APC, to zone the presidency to the South East. This, he can do as his own contribution to implementing the Rehabilitation aspect of the three R’s all of which have been largely disregarded by previous governments. In doing that, he would have established himself as a true patriot who finally healed the wounds of the civil war and closed that sad chapter in our history. 

In conclusion, let me once again state that South East is not desperate about having one of their own as president. What Ndigbo cherish is fairness, equity and justice. That is why Ohaneze is insisting on restructuring. I wish to state without any equivocation that Ndigbo is not obsessed with the Nigeria Presidency, and would, actually choose to restructure over the presidency. All the same, Nigeria’s attention is called to the Igbo adage, ‘o ji onye n’ala ji onwe ya,’ in other words, as long as Nigeria continues to pin Ndigbo to the ground, it will remain on the ground with Ndigbo. In fact, Nigeria will be living in a fool’s paradise to think that it can fulfil its potential by holding back its component part. We are convinced that Nigeria will never fulfil its potential so long as it pins to the ground one of its most vibrant constituencies. 

I wish to end with the wise words of Mr Ose Anenih who opined “Zoning, in theory, allows the ‘glory’ of the Presidency shine on every part of the nation, and allows each zone to mainstream a regional philosophy within a national political system.” 

By Uzochukwu Okafor

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